WASHINGTON -- Sen. John F. Kerry, top Democrat on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, today honored America’s 25 million small businesses during National Small Business Week and challenged the administration’s big business policies in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor.

“National Small Business Week is a time to celebrate the hard work of millions of American entrepreneurs. At the SBA Expo last night, we recognized countless Americans who had the courage to put everything on the line years ago because they believed in an idea. Today, those Americans are more than small business owners. They are employers, community leaders, and the keepers of the American Dream.

“Our small business owners not only remind us of the opportunities America provides to those willing to work for it – they also remind us how much opportunity small businesses provide to all Americans.

“Small businesses drive our economy, comprising over 99 percent of all firms and over half of our GDP. Two-thirds of all new American jobs are created by small businesses. A majority of Americans depend on their small business employer for health insurance. Our small businesses are responsible for countless inventions and innovations that have elevated the standard of living in the U.S. and around the world.

“Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in America. Three in four adults have considered starting a small business, and with the advent of the Internet those numbers are going up.

“The Small Business Administration, which I know my colleagues are very familiar with, is charged with defending that entrepreneurial spirit. The SBA helps small businesses tackle issues ranging from development to access to capital to federal contracting to trade assistance. These efforts are working.

“Small businesses like Staples, Intel, Nike, America Online, Eskimo Joe’s, Callaway Golf, FedEx, Hewlett-Packard, Jenny Craig, Ben & Jerry’s, Winnebago, Sun Microsystems, and Outback Steakhouse have all received critical SBA assistance. These businesses started out small, but today they’re household names. Their owners prove that sometimes excellent business ideas deserve a chance even when traditional lenders or venture capitalists won’t take that chance. Who knows how many of them wouldn’t have made it without help from the SBA? How many jobs would have been lost?

“The benefits of small business expansion are numerous. A stronger economy. High-paying jobs. New prospects for women and minorities. Innovative, cutting-edge products. Increased opportunity for countless Americans. And what’s unique about SBA investments is the fact that they pay for themselves in new tax revenues many times over.

“Supporting our small businesses is a win-win proposition for America. We can afford it. The people want it. And our economy needs it.

“That’s why it’s so hard to understand the administration’s lack of support. The SBA budget has been cut over a third since 2001, the largest reduction of any federal agency. Those cuts would have been far greater if Congress had not intervened. I have been proud to work with Senator Snowe and members on both sides of the aisle to stick up for small businesses. Time and time again we have received unanimous support in the Senate to rebuff proposed administration cuts. That’s because supporting small business shouldn’t be a partisan issue and never has been.

“We shouldn’t have to fight so hard for something that so obviously benefits America. This administration often claims the pro-business mantle. But if they were honest they would clarify that that means big business, not small business.

“Look at the bankruptcy bill. The bill helps big credit card companies and banks, but increases red tape and bureaucracy for small businesses. Small business owners know the path to success is often through failure, but the president’s bankruptcy bill discourages risk-taking and entrepreneurship.

“Look at the tax cuts. The administration claims the tax cuts primarily benefit small business, but in reality only the biggest small businesses get the majority of the cuts. More than half of small business owners received less than $500, and almost a quarter got no tax cut at all.

“Look at energy policy. While American families and small businesses struggled with gas prices, oil companies earned record profits in the fourth quarter of 2004: ExxonMobil up 218 percent, ConocoPhillips up 145 percent, Shell up 51 percent, ChevronTexaco up 39% and BP up 35 percent. Show me the small business that saw that kind of growth in the fourth quarter of last year.

“Look at what’s going on with federal contracts right now. Congress set the goal of each federal agency awarding at least 23 percent of its contracting dollars to small businesses. So what did the administration do? They allowed $2 billion worth of contracts to be reported as going to small businesses that, in fact, went to some of our biggest businesses. The money went to Raytheon, Northup Grumman, General Dynamics and Hewlett-Packard. Even the state of Texas was treated as a small business.

“An administration concerned with small business would be outraged by this and do something about it. This administration has done nothing. They have not accepted requests for an audit. They have not taken substantive steps to reform the contracting process. They have not prosecuted anyone for misrepresenting their organization as a small business. And now the administration is supporting efforts to make it easier for the Energy Department to shift money away from small businesses.

“A bipartisan Senate has repeatedly stood up to an administration too willing to ignore the challenges facing our small businesses. Now, it is time to join forces again to assure that the newest and gravest challenge to small business is not ignored.

“Small businesses are hit particularly hard by our healthcare crisis. Most small business owners want to do right by their employees and offer healthcare, but too many can no longer afford to. Premiums continue to rise faster than inflation or wages, with double-digit increases in each of the last four years. Since 2000, premiums for family coverage have gone up 59 percent, compared with inflation increases of nearly 10% and wage growth of over 12 percent. Some small businesses have reported their premiums increasing by more than 70 percent in one year.

“As a result, 5 percent fewer small businesses offered health benefits to their workers in 2004 than in 2001. By contrast, 99 percent of businesses with 200 or more employees offer health benefits, making it that much harder for small businesses to attract and keep the talent they need to grow.

“Of the 45 million uninsured Americans, almost two-thirds are small business owners, their employees and their families. In a nation founded on the principle of opportunity, that is unacceptable.

“We need a healthcare plan that gives small businesses access to the range of plan choices and consumer protections offered through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. And we need to give them affordable options through refundable tax credits and a federal reinsurance plan that would reduce premiums for everyone.

“Getting a small business healthcare plan passed should be a top priority for all of us this Congress. We can’t allow skyrocketing healthcare to slow down our economy or dampen entrepreneurship in America.

“Small businesses and entrepreneurs are America's single greatest economic resource. Time and again small business – not large corporations – have pulled our economy out of trouble, developed technological breakthroughs, and changed the way we do business in America for the better. For many entrepreneurs, the SBA is their only chance to earn their fair share of the American Dream. We have a responsibility to defend that Dream. We must ensure the SBA is adequately funded, assure legislation never shortchanges small business, and provide a real plan for small business healthcare. The doors of opportunity must be open to everyone.”